What are some literary antecedents for a frame in which an official reports the advent of a deity? (Browning’s “Cleon,” and Lee reverses the situation for an ostensibly Christian doctor is reporting on the advent of a pagan deity)

What is the effect of the use of a frame, documentary style, and educated observer to report on the advent of a pagan goddess?

What do we know about the narrator? About his correspondent? About their relationship? (he is writing a history of the decline of the pagan deities, and serves as the physician to a convent; she is described as changing and mercurial, and is unusually interested in her protégé)

What is added to this tale by its style?

Are the comic or sly elements to this narrative, and if so, how do these affect its message? (Venus is unstoppable, a life force)

Is there humor to the fact that even a historian of the pagan deities does not at first identify Venus? (also there is humor in the many clues which the reader is expected to identify)

At what point does the reader understand Dionea’s identity? Which of her actions are explicable only when this is known?

What purpose is served by the tale’s many allusions to literary works? To artists and art works?

What is the narrator’s view of pagan revivals? Does his (or his author’s) view resemble those of Pater and Swinburne? (Pater saw the Renaissance as the revival of classical literature tinged with a modern melancholy; Swinburne’s “Hymn to Proserpine” laments the supplanting of ancient Grecian rites with Christianity

What purpose is served by foreign quotations? By the accounts of rural stories and myths? (i. e., the accounts of local belief in witchcraft)

Is the tale’s physical setting important? What is the effect of the descriptions of the coastal Mediterranean?

What meanings are implicit in the tale of the sculptor Waldemar and the sad death of him and his wife? What erroneous view of the nature of women, and his own desires, had he held?

What are some of the traits of Dionea/Venus? (immoral, impersonal, a stirrer of passion, herself only lightly moved)

Had Venus been featured in previous Victorian literary works? (William Morris’s The Earthly Paradise, her legends familiar from Sabine Baring-Gould, Curious Myths of the Middle Ages)

What do we learn from the ending? Is it important that the narrator does not observe Venus’s next transmutation directly but must hear of her from a “sailor boy”? Is he a fitting witness?

"A Wicked Voice" (1890)

1.     Is this a dramatic monologue? If so, how reliable do we feel the speaker’s testimony to be?

2.     What is suggested by the title’s use of the word “wicked” rather than “evil”? (some ambiguity, beauty of singer’s voice not an unmixed evil, even if destructive)

3.     Are there other nineteenth century tales in which a portrait assumes powerful or living qualities? (D. G. Rossetti’s “St. Agnes of Intercession,” Oliphant’s “The Portrait”)

4.     What is the significance of the opening discussion of the speaker’s preference for older forms of music rather than Wagner’s operas?

5.     What is his declared response to emphasis on the singer’s voice? Why does he find this threatening or abhorrent?

6.     How is the speaker identified? (Magnus, a composer, originally from Norway) What is implied by his name?

7.     What traits does he ascribe to himself? (a lover of nobility in art, 229)

8.     Is the reader expected to ascribe significance to the fact that Magnus is originally from Norway? According to this story, what contrasting qualities will he have found in Italy? (land of sensuous temptation)

9.     Is it significant that he has chosen to write an opera on the topic of Ogier the Dane? How are the legends of Ogier described, and will these form any precedent for the narrator? (Ogier loses sense of time, obsessed with love for a fairy)

10.     What are features of the tale’s setting? (emphasis on moon, unhealthy airs)

11.     What is indicated by the narrator’s strong negative response to the portrait of Zaffirini? (anticipates fated ending)

12.     How is Zaffirini characterized? (feminine, mocking, implacable) What is the significance of the fact that he is described as possessing both masculine and feminine traits?

13.      What does the narrator learn from his friend’s account of Zaffirini’s past treatment of the latter’s great aunt? Is the singer now dead?

14.      How does the narrator treat Zaffarini’s portrait? Is this ominous? What chain of events does this set in motion?

15.     What happens to the speaker after repeatedly hearing this voice? Is he able to control his desires through will power?

16.      Where does he flee to ameliorate his condition, and what results from this attempt? (visits palace where Zaffarini had seduced and murdered the great aunt through his charms)

17.      How is the palace described? (old, decayed) What warning is the composer given by its inhabitants? (not to breathe in miasmic night air)

18.      What causes him to violate this admonition? (obsession with hearing Zaffarini’s voice)

19.      How is the voice described? Are some of the descriptions erotic? (veiled, then pulsing, breaks through and stabs the auditor)

20.      Are the senses blended in the narrator’s descriptions (synesthesia), and if so, what effect does this create?

21.      How is suspense created throughout the plot? In what ways does Magnus repeat the fate of the aristocratic aunt? How does this affect the reader’s expectations for his future? (he has heard the voice twice and begs its singer to permit him to hear it once more; Magnus’s predecessor had died on the third hearing of the voice)

22.      What has happened to his ability to write? (can no longer compose)

23.      Are there realistic explanations for his fate? (has contracted a fatal fever, as was not uncommon in this time and place)

24.      How does the story end? Is it appropriate that it should end with the speaker’s plea? That his fate is uncertain?

25.      Is there a moral to this story? Or alternately, is it important that there is no stated moral or possibility for “redemption”?

26.      What are the story’s basic themes? (divided self, power of art to evoke obsessive desires, destructiveness of attraction, permeability of the senses, the power of the unconscious, erotic attraction in sound)

27.      Are there parallels between “A Wicked Voice” and other works of the 1880s-90s which describe the power of music to stir undesired emotions? (Lionel Johnson, “The Dark Angel”)

“Prince Alberic and the Snake Lady” (1890)

1.     What tone is adopted by the narrator of this tale? With whom does the narrator sympathize, and who receives ironic treatment?

2.     What myth/plot pattern organizes this story? (a work of art’s power to encode a recurrent, determining myth or historical fate) Have you encountered earlier instances in which an artwork or legend predicts or determines future events? (Dante G. Rossetti’s “St. Agnes of Intercession”)

3.     Are there other instances in nineteenth-century literature in which an artistic creation takes on a life of its own?

4.     What are some basic themes of the story? (youth and love vs. age and narcissism; artifice vs. natural beauty; the blending of dreams and reality; the impossibility of crossing boundaries of identity)

5.     How is the Duke represented? Does he govern his kingdom well? (wasteful, spends half the realm’s revenues on entertainments) Do his subjects apparently agree with his statements? (may be an element of coercion)

6.     What is revealed by the Duke’s taste in art? Can you recall other instances in literature in which artistic artifice is contrasted with nature beauty? (Spenser’s “Bower of Bliss”; Tennyson’s “The Palace of Art”)

7.     After Alberic’s death can the reader regret the extinction of the House of Luna?

8.     What are some features of Alberic’s manner and character? (a handsome man with long golden locks--seems both masculine and feminine)

9.     How is the godmother/lady described? What does she represent?

10.     What is the snake lady’s relationship to Alberic? (teaches him to read and ride horses) How does he respond? Is their relationship benign?

11.     What literary antecedents are suggested by her snake features? (a lamia or femme fatale, cmp. Melusine, Keats’s “Lamia,” Morris’s “The Lady of the Land”)

12.     How is the story furthered by the presence of the Dwarf, the Jester, and the Jesuit? What qualities do they represent? (conniving of court)

13.     What are ways in which Lee’s story reverses conventional stereotypes? (the snake is sympathetic, the religious figure is cunning and malicious)

14.     When introduced to court, what virtues does Alberic manifest? Were these expected? How has he learned such decorum and probity? (perhaps from the Snake Lady)

15.     What motivates the Duke’s determination that Alberic should marry a weathly heiress? (wishes money for frivolous expenses)

16.      What prevents Alberic from succeeding in his efforts to rescue the Snake Lady from her bondage? (imprisoned and attacked) How does she die? (hacked to death by Duke and his minions)

17.     What causes Alberic’s death? Does this seem appropriate for his character?

18.      How are landscapes used symbolically throughout the story? (convey sensuous experience) Interiors? (e. g., the current palace vs. the older, more primitive one)

19.      Are there humorous touches to this story and its descriptions?

20.      How is the narrative furthered by its setting in Italy?

21.      How is the story enhanced by its author’s knowledge of the historical milieu? Is Lee’s presentation of the practices of the House of Luna closer to the historical reality of the time or to parody?

22.     What is unusual or unexpected about this tale’s representation of love, sexuality and romance? Can you see parallels between Lee’s portrayals and those of other decadent writers?

The Virgin of the Seven Daggers

What is the tone of the opening descriptions? Is the church described beautiful or something else? (grotesque elements, described as "barbaric," "monstrous," etc.) What aesthetic seems to dictate the attachment to "a train of waxen Christs with bloody wounds and spangled loin-cloths).

How is the Virgin described? By what standards is she attractive? What may be the symbolism of the seven knives?

In what century is this tale set? (possibly 16th or 17th; the "New World" exists; frame mentions date 1666 as in past)

What do we learn about Don Juan? On what prior literary examples is this character based? (Don Juan of legend, Byron's "Don Juan")

What does he ask from her? (to be saved from clutches of Satan) And what does he offer in return? (will provide legal absolution)

What attitudes does the tale seem to hold toward the Roman Catholic faith and its hierarchy? (eminently corruptible; speaks of festivity of the grand burning of heretics, 265)

What are some crimes he has committed? (has killed husbands of prior lovers) Who are some retainers whom he keeps in his household? (dwarf, threadbare poet, 265-66)

What services does he seek from Baruch the Jew, Senor Don Bonaventura? What are some characteristics of the necromantic ritual which the latter performs? (black magic fortifies him for ordeal)

What does he encounter as he proceeds into the tower? (voices of his former loves) What symbolism is associated with a black bird? What lovely space does he enter? (palace garden of Muslim prince)

What are some characteristics of the object of his current love, the Infanta? What does she demand to know? (whether he considers her the most beautiful object he has even beheld, more than the Virgin of the Seven Daggers)

Why cannot he agree? What is his punishment? How does he experience his own "death"? (feels his head bounce)

Where does he "wake"? (on riverside ledge) Why does he receive no answer to his questions? (has become a revenant and is invisible) Whose funeral procession does he encounter? (his own; sees his body on bier, 286)

What does "he"/the ghost ask of the Virgin of Seven Daggers? Is his prayer granted, and if so,

by what means? (ascends into heaven)

What is added to the tale by its frame? (tale received as a saint's vision) Is it important that someone from the period wanted to tell it but has been unable to do so? (author is completing an unfinished authentic task from the past)

Why does the narrator speak of the "veracious and moral history of Don Juan"? Is this description ironic?

Would you describe this tale as humorous or serious? What is its point, if any? (consistent within its own terms)

Are there aspects of this tale which seem to you parodic? (sleeping beauty, gallant cavalier, salvation by love, intrusion into dark tower, garden of love, saint's vision) Why might one write a parody of earlier literary ideals and motifs? Does this approach seem fitting for a "supernatural tale" of the fin de siecle?

Amour Dure 

What are some implications of the title, "Amour Dure"? Can this be read in more than one way? 

What are some advantages and assumptions behind the use of the diary form? Do we assume that the diarist tells the truth? 

What do we learn about the character and past of the narrator Spiridion Trepka? (lives alone, has written a book of art criticism, fears becoming a pedant)  

What relationship does he wish with the past? (to "come in spirit into the presence of the Past") Is this an unusual wish for a nineteenth century speaker? 

 What might be some antecedents for this desire? (the editor of Past and Present) At this point what does the reader expect may happen? 

Where is this tale set, and why has he traveled there? (Urbania, "forgotten of mankind," 87) 

How does he characterize the local people? Does he converse with them? (fears his illusions being dispelled) 

What seems indicated by the reference to Elias Howe and his sewing machines? (these were an invention of the 1840s and in popular use by the 1850s)  

What characterizes Spiridion's landlord? (deals in antiquities) How are his three sisters characterized? (the fates) What rites are performed in his house? (sorcery) 

What is meant by the allusion to "Dryasdusts"? (unimaginative historians, from Carlyle's Past and Present) 

What are the classical associations of the name Medea? When did the Medea of this story live? (late 16th century) 

What are some repeated patterns in her history as Spiridion tells it? To what extent does she seem culpable for the deaths of her husbands and lovers? 

What counter-narrative does Spiridion attempt to construct? Is he creating a kind of feminist revisionist history? Are there elements of his interpretation which are not entirely convincing? 

What changes in his life and temperament occur during the period of his preoccupation with this story? 

How does he encounter Medea, and how does she communicate with him? What act does she propose that he do?  

How are we to interpret the ending? Has Medea kept her promise? What in fact has been his relationship with the past? (has overwhelmed and destroyed the present)  

What type of legend does this tale seem to be? What have been some literary antecedents? (femme fatale, as in Sidonia the Sorceress, popular with the Pre-Raphaelites) 

Is there any ideological significance to a tale in which a modern historian is destroyed by his identification with past stories? Is this an allegory of the power of literature and the imagination? Their dangers?  

 

Amour Dure 

What are some implications of the title, "Amour Dure"? Can this be read in more than one way? 

What are some advantages and assumptions behind the use of the diary form? Do we assume that the diarist tells the truth? 

What do we learn about the character and past of the narrator Spiridion Trepka? (lives alone, has written a book of art criticism, fears becoming a pedant)  

What relationship does he wish with the past? (to "come in spirit into the presence of the Past") Is this an unusual wish for a nineteenth century speaker? 

 What might be some antecedents for this desire? (the editor of Past and Present) At this point what does the reader expect may happen? 

Where is this tale set, and why has he traveled there? (Urbania, "forgotten of mankind," 87) 

How does he characterize the local people? Does he converse with them? (fears his illusions being dispelled) 

What seems indicated by the reference to Elias Howe and his sewing machines? (these were an invention of the 1840s and in popular use by the 1850s)  

What characterizes Spiridion's landlord? (deals in antiquities) How are his three sisters characterized? (the fates) What rites are performed in his house? (sorcery) 

What is meant by the allusion to "Dryasdusts"? (unimaginative historians, from Carlyle's Past and Present) 

What are the classical associations of the name Medea? When did the Medea of this story live? (late 16th century) 

What are some repeated patterns in her history as Spiridion tells it? To what extent does she seem culpable for the deaths of her husbands and lovers? 

What counter-narrative does Spiridion attempt to construct? Is he creating a kind of feminist revisionist history? Are there elements of his interpretation which are not entirely convincing? 

What changes in his life and temperament occur during the period of his preoccupation with this story? 

How does he encounter Medea, and how does she communicate with him? What act does she propose that he do?  

How are we to interpret the ending? Has Medea kept her promise? What in fact has been his relationship with the past? (has overwhelmed and destroyed the present)  

What type of legend does this tale seem to be? What have been some literary antecedents? (femme fatale, as in Sidonia the Sorceress, popular with the Pre-Raphaelites) 

Is there any ideological significance to a tale in which a modern historian is destroyed by his identification with past stories? Is this an allegory of the power of literature and the imagination? Their dangers?  

Amour Dure

What are some implications of the title, "Amour Dure"? Can this be read in more than one way?

What are some advantages and assumptions behind the use of the diary form? Do we assume that the diarist tells the truth?

What do we learn about the character and past of the narrator Spiridion Trepka? (lives alone, has written a book of art criticism, fears becoming a pedant)

What relationship does he wish with the past? (to "come in spirit into the presence of the Past") Is this an unusual wish for a nineteenth century speaker?

What might be some antecedents for this desire? (the editor of Past and Present) At this point what does the reader expect may happen?

Where is this tale set, and why has he traveled there? (Urbania, "forgotten of mankind," 87)

How does he characterize the local people? Does he converse with them? (fears his illusions being dispelled)

What seems indicated by the reference to Elias Howe and his sewing machines? (these were an invention of the 1840s and in popular use by the 1850s)

What characterizes Spiridion's landlord? (deals in antiquities) How are his three sisters characterized? (the fates) What rites are performed in his house? (sorcery)

What is meant by the allusion to "Dryasdusts"? (unimaginative historians, from Carlyle's Past and Present)

What are the classical associations of the name Medea? When did the Medea of this story live? (late 16th century)

What are some repeated patterns in her history as Spiridion tells it? To what extent does she seem culpable for the deaths of her husbands and lovers?

What counter-narrative does Spiridion attempt to construct? Is he creating a kind of feminist revisionist history? Are there elements of his interpretation which are not entirely convincing?

What changes in his life and temperament occur during the period of his preoccupation with this story?

How does he encounter Medea, and how does she communicate with him? What act does she propose that he do?

How are we to interpret the ending? Has Medea kept her promise? What in fact has been his

relationship with the past? (has overwhelmed and destroyed the present)

What type of legend does this tale seem to be? What have been some literary antecedents? (femme fatale, as in Sidonia the Sorceress, popular with the Pre-Raphaelites)

Is there any ideological significance to a tale in which a modern historian is destroyed by his identification with past stories? Is this an allegory of the power of literature and the imagination? Their dangers?